BENGALURU: With the fast approaching deadline for draft publication of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam on December 31, thousands of Assamese, who work in the coffee plantations in Kodagu, Sakleshpur and Chikmgaluru have gone back home to get their names updated in the register.
“We are fast approaching the peak season for picking, drying and pulping of coffee seeds. We are left with skeletal staff as most of our workers are from Assam and they have gone back to get their NRC updated,” said a coffee planter from Kodagu.
The updated NRC in Assam is expected to be a reference point against which an individual can check his/her citizenship status. Though all states in India have NRCs based on the 1951 census, Assam has taken a lead to update its records of citizenship primarily to wean away illegal migrants/infiltrators from the neighbouring Bangladesh.
The exercise is being monitored by the Supreme Court, which has instructed the North-Eastern state to publish the NRC draft carrying 2.38 crore names by the midnight of December 31. The court had rejected the plea by the Registrar General of India (RGI), who had requested for a July 31, 2018 deadline.
The coffee plantation and industry in Karnataka is largely dependent on workers from Assam, who have settled in the coffee heartland of India for the last eight to 10 years, have learnt the local language/dialect and merged with the local populace.
“We have been here for more than five years and happy to work in the plantations. We are paid well and are able to save and send money back home. Now we have to go back to Assam for the NRC,” said Qurban, an Assamese worker in a coffee plantation in Chettali, near Siddapura in Kodagu.
His friend Imtiaz told this newspaper that there were lakhs of Assamese like them, who work in the plantations in Karnataka. “Lakhs of Assamese labourers have been working at the coffee estates for more than a decade now. It is difficult to get local people to work in the coffee plantations because they enjoy the benefits from the populist Central and State schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and Anna Bhagya. They want their children to get educated in towns and cities instead of government schools in the coffee estates. We had no choice but to employ the labourers from outside,” said another coffee planter, who didn’t wish to be named.
While the Assamese labourers were informed by their relatives back home to return immediately and get their names updated in the NRC, planters have been informing each other to allow the labourers to go in the interest of national security.
“We might be having Bangladeshis in our midst. They are illegal migrants. There is no way to identify them because they speak the same language as the other Assamese. Though the NRC exercise has hit us hard we must co-operate in the national interest,” he added.
The word has gone around the planers that no owner should get false Aadhaar or voter identity cards for their workers from outside the State for the same reason.
The 1985 Foreigners’ Tribunals have declared over 38,000 people in Assam as illegal migrants. Most of these 38,000 have gone missing are allegedly absconding for fear of being caught.